Sunday, July 16, 2017

Some perfect weather...

...for breeding turf problems.  Yes, we finished our fourth heat wave of the year last Thursday with oppressive humidity and some showers.  Although we dodged the heavy rain that neighboring areas received, there was still a whole lot of moisture in the air, which made the golf course a great petri dish for turf diseases.

Fortunately, at this time of year, we make preventative plant protectant applications to most areas of the course, and we saw little active disease.  However, one notable exception to this is the Fine Fescue areas.  While the Fescue definitely require more herbicide applications than any other part of the  course, fungicides applications aren't something we'd typically consider.

If we're looking for a way to keep these areas thin and wispy, then some well-placed Dollar Spot disease might not be a bad thing.

Of course, Mother Nature will rarely do exactly what we would like.  So, while a small amount of Dollar Spot may not be so bad, finding Brown Patch plus Dollar Spot in the Fescue isn't ideal, and may make spots a bit too thin.

We often say that there are no two years alike.  If nothing else, we can always count on that, and with its own unique challenges, 2017 is proving to be no different.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Brothers in Turf

Finding reliable summer help is often a challenge for us--the hours are crazy and the work is hard.  That is why we are very grateful for having a solid group of young men this year.  One unique thing about our 2017 team is that we have three brothers working together.

Entering his third season at Laurel Creek, is oldest brother, Joe.  He is a graduate of Ursinus College and now working as a teacher in the Moorestown school district.  Joe was a stand out performer for us two years ago, when he relentlessly pushed a blower during our August aerification.

Youngest brother, Mike, has returned for a second season.  He has completed his freshman year at Virginia Tech. and will be majoring in Engineering.  Like his brothers, Mike is a strong, consistent man on the team.

Middle sibling, Luke, is here for his first season, but has picked things up very quickly, and does an excellent job with the bunkers.  Luke is an Environmental Sciences major at Rutgers, and will be receiving internship credit for his experience on the golf course this summer.

Given their varied career paths, you might wonder if these siblings share any common interests?  Rumor has it, there is at least one thing they have all enjoyed during college:  Rugby!

Whether it is Luke banging out bunkers, Mike laying down some razor-like lines on greens, or Joe terrifically triplexing tees, these guys are a real asset to the Laurel Creek team.

If you happen to see them (or any of the staff members) on the course, please feel free to give them a thumbs-up if you appreciate their efforts.  Honestly, that quick, simple gesture can make someone's day during these dog days of summer!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Back to Bunker Basics

As a reminder, when coming in and out of bunkers, they should be entered and exited only from the low side.  For example, on the bunker in front of #2 green, the bunker should be accessed from the side closer to the tee, not the green side.

We have been instructing the maintenance staff to place rakes on the low side, however it seems that every morning, a few rakes have magically migrated back to the high side.
This rake is now between the green and bunker--not where golfers should be entering or exiting.

While the picture below doesn't do justice to the severity of the slope, at 33 degrees, this is a steep face.  Repeatedly entering and exiting the bunker on this slope will obviously move sand, eventually destroy the sod lip, and is potentially dangerous to the player.

Of course, seeing unraked footprints on a bunker face is like adding insult to injury.  We have spent an enormous amount of time and effort this year to improve the condition of the bunkers.  Your help in properly maintaining them is appreciated!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Back to Basics: Ball Mark Repair

Unfortunately, we continue to see a good number of unrepaired ball marks on the greens, or ball marks which were not properly repaired.   The picture below gives step by step directions for how to properly repair a ball mark:

Further instruction can be found by watching this brief USGA video:
USGA Course Care Ball Mark Repair

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask a member of the Pro Shop staff.  Your help in keeping the greens smooth, will be appreciated by all who play behind you!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tired of Talking Take-All

As we discussed last month (The Patch is Back), we've been monitoring this year's Take-All patch closely.  Like many turf diseases, this pathogen operates in a fairly narrow soil temperature range.

The good news is that this past week's heat wave and record-breaking temperatures appear to have gotten us out of the "sweet spot" for Take-All to continue damaging the Bentgrass roots.
2" soil temperatures spiked to 81 degrees last week.

The bad news with this sudden burst of heat was that many of the areas which were damaged by Take-All quickly showed up when having to deal with heat stress--no roots and 96 degrees is not easy for a plant to survive.

Back to the good news. We kept the tees and fairways well hydrated throughout the week, and by Saturday it looked like we were starting to see some recovery, which is encouraging.

Again, this disease is somewhat random in when and where it appears, however we do see some patterns.   While it's not something we can graph in a straight line, there is a correlation between the amount of organic matter in an area, and the prevalence of  the disease.  The picture below shows that the forward tee on #3 got hit hard with Take-All, whereas the main teeing area, which was stripped and reseeded a few years ago, has little disease.

Going forward, we will continue to work to prevent Take-All,  This fall and winter there are a number  of different treatment protocols we will be looking at that will include different levels of fertility, applications of different trace minerals, as well as preventative fungicide applications.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Member-Guest Week

Each year, a good deal of planning and preparation goes into getting the course ready for our Member-Guest tournament.  So, how can you tell when it's Member-Guest week?  Well, from the perspective of the Grounds Staff, here are a few giveaways:

The regular 4:25 a.m. wake up time is starting to look really good.

There's a whole lot of double mowing...

...but not a whole lot of clippings to show for it.

After the mowing comes the rolling.
The divot mix boxes are getting Armor All.
A patch of brown grass gets painted green.
You've hit your daily step goal by 7:00 a.m.

This year we were fortunate to have great weather for the event.  When you combined this with a team of employees who focused on the details, the resulting course conditions seemed easy--almost...

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hydraulic Leak: A Success Story

Did you see the 100 yard long hydraulic leak we had on #9 fairway?  More than likely, the answer to this question is no, and we're happy we can say that with confidence.  Two weeks after it occurred, you will have to really look hard to see the remnants of the leak.

Even up close, you may have difficulty seeing the oil line parallel to the sprinkler and quick coupler valve.

In an ideal world, we would never have to deal with issues like hydraulic leaks.  However, even when following manufacturer's best management practices for preventative maintenance on equipment, sooner or later a leak will occur.  In this particular case, it was not a hose, but a seal on one of the mower's hydraulic motors that failed.

The pictures above don't do justice to this leak either.  When we initially saw it, this looked like it had the potential to leave a solid dead strip of grass up to 2" wide.  So, how did we minimize the damage and not have, "...some splainin' to do?"

Well, for the same reasons that most of us keep a fire extinguisher in the house, "just in case," we keep a spill response kit in the maintenance facility, to address hydraulic leaks.  In this instance, we were able to quickly grab the remediation products, and get on the spill within a couple of minutes.

It's not often that we would ever consider putting the phrases, "hydraulic leak" and "success story" anywhere near each other, and truthfully, good fortune was on our side.

The incident took place very close to the maintenance facility, the operator notified us immediately, and the turf wasn't stressed prior to the leak.  So, while we can't guarantee the same results every time, we are very grateful that solid planning and a bit of luck led to a happy ending in this situation.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Often times, when we receive bulk deliveries of liquid fertilizer or wetting agents, they are packaged in large totes.  Typically, the  companies who sell the goods are not interested in getting these totes back.  So, what do we do with these containers?

Well, for years we have been using large concrete mortar pans to hold the divot mix we make.  These metal pans cost a few hundred dollars, and eventually rust out. 

In trying to come up with a good replacement for these, a light bulb went off, and after a quick zip with a reciprocating saw, we now have a new divot mix storage container. 

As the saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."  Whether you call it recycling or repurposing, we now have a good divot mix container which won't rust, and the price was right!  An added bonus is that this can easily be moved with a pallet jack or loader forks.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Patch is Back

After dealing with Take All Patch  throughout much of the spring of 2016, it was a real bummer to see the signs of it once again a few weeks ago.  This disappointment was compounded by the fact that following last year's battle with Take All, we had taken a more proactive approach to handling this disease, and made preventative fungicide treatments last fall, using three different treatment protocols.

Take All Patch on #7 approach.

As with many root-borne turf diseases, once you see the damage to the foliage from Take All Patch, it's often too late to do anything, as the plant's root system has already been compromised.

Whenever we make any treatment to the course, we try to leave check plots to see if the treatment was effective, or not.  However, this disease is seemingly so random in nature that it's difficult to quantify what impact the fall fungicide treatments may have had.  As General Manager, Joel, pointed out, maybe the treatments actually worked well, and we'd be in a whole lot worse shape now without them.

While prevention is the key to this pathogen, we are testing a curative approach this spring, using a liquid fertilizer and wetting agent program.  We marked a small patch on #7 approach, so we can easily track whether the disease is getting worse, or if the spray has stopped it, and we start to see recovery in the Bentgrass.

Like most turf diseases, Take All Patch is only active in a fairly narrow temperature range.  Its appearance in 2017 was later into the spring than in 2016, leaving us hopeful that it will be gone sooner rather than later this summer.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Greens Aerification

The greens were aerified last Monday and Tuesday.  As we have the past few years, we went with a two step process, using hollow tines first, then following this up with the use of the Dryject system.  People often ask, why we are aerifying the greens twice, basically at the same time?

Each of these two methods of aerification has its own strengths.  While just one of the two may work well for some greens, with Laurel Creek's greens now closing in on 28 years old, we find that the two different methods complement each other, without increasing the recovery time we would see from just core aerifying.

In the case of the hollow tines, we use a very tight hole spacing to remove a significant amount of organic matter from the top few inches of the root zone.  These plugs are scooped up using a core harvester and removed.  We then apply an average of three tons of sand per green, and broom this in to fill the holes.

The next day the Dryject contractor arrives with four of his amazing machines.  This unique piece of equipment creates a very small hole on the surface, while injecting a significant amount of sand into the soil profile, at a deeper level than we can achieve with our conventional aerifier.  While this process isn't removing organic matter, it is diluting it, and providing great drainage channels into the heart of the green's root zone.

Grass growers may get a bit giddy seeing the results of the Dryject treatment, shown in the plug below.  This is exactly what the greens need to get through the upcoming summer heat.

Immediately after aerifying on Monday and Tuesday, we began using our new roller on Wednesday to smooth the greens.  At 1,500+ pounds, this is a pretty heavy piece of equipment, and the results could be seen and felt immediately.

Between the hollow tine and Dryject, we used over 170,000 pounds of sand.  Admittedly, there are times when it may appear that we were a bit heavy-handed with the sand, as you can see in the picture of #9 green below.

However, it is generally better to have too much sand than too little after this operation.  Check out the picture taken just two days later--we are actually starting to see some green in the green.  

Without question, when it comes to aerification, we stand by the old saying that you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelette.  When asked why we have to aerify the greens when they've been so good, the answer is simple:  Because we want them to continue to be among the best putting surfaces.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sod Management

Sodding an area gives instant gratification--what was brown in the morning, is green in the afternoon.  However, there are a few things to consider when deciding whether to go with seed or sod.  This would include the area's slope, the time of year, and the amount of traffic it will face.

In executing the Golf Course Master Plan work last summer and fall, sod was the logical choice in all areas.  Of course, with sod, we're growing it in a different location from where it started--think skin graft on a person.  In a golf course situation, the turf must be able to withstand quite a bit more extreme conditions than a typical backyard which has limited traffic.  Additionally, in the case of Bentgrass sod, it will have to endure a very low height of cut.

One of the best things we can do to help this sod acclimate to its new life on the golf course is to aerify it.  This reduces the thatch level, and increases pore space, giving the roots someplace to easily move into.  Aerification will also help to alleviate layering which may exist between the original soil, and the new soil.  For the lower cut Bentgrass green surrounds, aerifying, topdressing and smoothing with a mat gives us an opportunity to remove any tiny lumps and bumps, thus preventing scalping.

We currently see a window of opportunity to aerify with good results.  The turf is actively growing, and we're not yet facing the heat of the summer.  It is time to make some holes!

Bentgrass green surrounds on #16.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Heading Off Course

For the past five years, we've used this blog to keep you informed about what is happening on the golf course.  This week we're taking a break from golf, and heading off the course to take a quick look at a different kind of "behind the scenes project" which was recently completed.

It's unlikely that too many of you have had the opportunity to visit the Clubhouse boiler room--and truth be told, you really weren't missing much.  However, during the past month, Facilities Manager, David Shoemaker, and his team have worked with a contractor to make a significant improvement to this important piece of the Clubhouse infrastructure.

The picture below was taken during the transition of water heating systems.  The two original hot water heaters and huge 500 gallon storage tank are in the foreground.

Check out the difference with the old equipment removed.  The three new, tankless hot water heaters are more energy efficient and take up a fraction of the space of the old units.  The room looks so nice, it was deemed worthy of hanging some artwork on the wall.

One small challenge during this project was the removal of the old tank.  The Clubhouse had literally been built around the 500 gallon hot water storage tank.  Without five foot wide doorways, removing this in one piece was not an option.  Sam had to remove the outside jacket from the tank, then the insulation, and was finally able to use a reciprocating saw to cut the steel into manageable pieces.

With spring in full swing, and plenty of activity going on outside, we will be back on course next week!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Back in the Bunkers

This spring, we've noticed that the sand in several of the new bunkers has not firmed up as we had expected.  Given that this is the same sand we've used in all of the previously renovated bunkers (which firmed very quickly), this has been something of a surprise, and has us looking into potential causes for the difference.

Inconsistent moisture is one potential factor here.  Obviously there is no irrigation running over the winter, and precipitation was hit and miss, with a very dry February and wet March.  While we often think of something dry as being firmer than when wet (like pasta, for example), that's not always the case.  If you've ever gone for a run on the beach, you quickly learn that the firmer sand is the wet sand, closest to the water.

In fact, for  tournament preparation, you will often see bunkers being watered by hand to keep the sand firm.  

While moisture may be playing a role, we are also revisiting how these new bunkers are being maintained.  With many of the new bunkers being smaller than the old ones, we have elected to hand rake them, instead of using a machine.  Even on the larger bunkers, where we do use the Sand Pro, the bunker faces are steeper than in the past, and we've been making sure the mechanical rake only stays on the flat portion of the bunker.

So, it's a bit ironic that we are now finding that our bunker maintenance protocol, which is designed to keep the bunkers in the best condition, may actually be contributing to the lack of sand firmness.  That is, with no machine in many of the bunkers, there's no on-going compaction.  With no machine on the steep faces, again, no compaction.  What's the answer?

Yes, we are using a Sand Pro to help compact the sand...However, this machine has no rake assembly on it, and it is the large flotation tires which are doing the packing work for us.  Last Sunday night we irrigated the green surrounds to wet the sand, and on Monday three team members spent all day checking and adjusting sand depth, and packing the sand.

This is clearly not a one and done job.  We will be looking to get back in these bunkers every couple of weeks initially, then back off as we see a change in the sand firmness.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nesting Time

It's spring, and the time of year when we see lots of birds sitting on their nests, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their hatchlings.  As you play #14, take a look to the right of the green, and you can see a red-tailed hawk nest.

Due to the height of the nest, it's a bit difficult to get a clear view of the activity, but you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of mom (or dad) patiently sitting. 

Below, we saw one of the proud parent looking for a meal.

Following a successful hunt, breakfast is being prepared in a nearby tree.

And while driving across the bridge on #14, we got an up close look at some serious talons,

Once again, we look at this nesting as evidence of golf and the environment working together to provide habitat for wildlife.  So watch out rabbits, squirrels and snakes--there will be more mouths to feed this spring.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tee Time

For several years, we were only aerifying tees in August, however this has proven to be insufficient to keep up with thatch accumulation, and many of the tees have become softer than is ideal.  Therefore, in addition to our August aerification, we have added a spring coring to the cultural practices program for tees.
#9 tee, four days post aerification.

While much of last week's weather was cold and wet, we were fortunate to get a brief window when we were able to aerify tees.  Despite heavy rain just a couple of days earlier, the conditions last Monday were perfect for the process.  Temperatures were warm enough to dry the surface and allow for a quick and easy cleanup, while not stressing the turf.  We topdressed the tees, broomed the sand in, and then received another shot of rain that evening, helping to move the sand off the surface and deeper into the holes.

While it often seems that we are fighting the weather, it's truly appreciated when things go as planned.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Turf Research

Often times, when we discuss turfgrass research with anyone outside of the industry, they are amazed that individuals devote their entire lives to studying how to improve grass.  After all, it's just grass--seed, water, some fertilizer--you're good to go, right?

Well, from a golf course perspective, we demand much more from turf today than we did in the past.  Green speeds at today's professional tournaments are often times twice what they were 40 years ago.  Developing grasses that can actually survive under the abuse of extremely low mowing heights doesn't often happen by accident.

Again, if you think it's just grass, click on the link below and take a moment (or two) and see if you can wrap your head around the research done at Rutgers to develop more heat-tolerant Bentgrass:

 Candidate genes and molecular markers associated with heat tolerance in colonial Bentgrass

Turf research isn't just for golf courses.  With grass all around us, this work benefits most everyone through its use in home lawns and athletic fields.

Breeding varieties of grass which are more drought and wear tolerant, as well as disease and insect resistant, has obvious benefits.  Fewer inputs, conservation of resources, and a playing surface that can handle 12 soccer games every weekend are some of the goals.

Not quite as simple as getting out a spreader and throwing a bag of fertilizer in it, now is it!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Honk Honk!

This time of year, when we hear honk honk, it's often not from a truck, but from some unwelcome guests:  Canada Geese.  Fortunately, there are only a few resident geese on the golf course, and we take pride in having been able to keep their numbers so low.

Remaining vigilant has been critical to the success in this endeavor, as two geese may quickly turn into eight geese next year, and dozens of geese the following year.  While best known to golfers for the mess they make on a course, they also munch on fine turf, and contribute to nutrient loading in the ponds.

However, despite our best efforts at discouraging them, year in and year out, one pair picks a great place to nest--on the island between #5 and 6.  Great that is, if you're a goose, but definitely not so great for us.
Don and Don survived their trip to Tyrell Island in the SS Minnow.

As our feathered friends prepared to nest this past week, we installed some wire around the island, to limit their ease of entry and exit to and from the water.

While trying to outsmart a goose doesn't sound like it should be too difficult, they do seem to adapt, and become less afraid of everything we throw at them.  With 16 ponds and close to 40 acres of wetlands on the property, goose management will undoubtedly remain an on-going challenge.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What month is this?

While we were enjoying temperatures in the 70's during late February, our Golf Professional, John DiMarco, accurately predicted that we were going to get a good storm in March.  Yes, conditions are quite different this month than they were last, when we had the warmest February on record.  The dramatic change has a lot of people asking how the radical ups and downs in temperature will impact the course going forward.
Carts?  Maybe one equipped with tracks, or skis.

Currently, we don't have any cause for alarm.  As many know, ice is not good for turf.  Fortunately, we are in March, not January, so the nasty ice from last week's storm won't be around for long.

Another question is, could there be any benefit to the blast of cold air after a warm period?  That is, will this help take out some of the undesirables, such as weevils?  Unfortunately, it seems unlikely, as we had only started to see adult weevil movement in the warm weather, and insects tend to have some great survival mechanisms that let them ride out wacky weather patterns.

Likely, the greatest challenge this weather roller coaster will present is in how it impacts the timing of our applications for Poa seedhead, Crabgrass, and yes, Annual Bluegrass Weevil control.  Some of the phenological indicators that we typically rely on, such as Forsythia, may not work this year, due to injury they've sustained from the cold.  The use of Growing Degree Days will definitely be key in successful timing this year.

As is often the case, we may look back at 2017 and label it another "average" year.  However, the peaks and valleys that lead to these years certainly feel as if they are becoming more extreme.  Right now, we're just hoping that John DiMarco doesn't forecast a brutally hot and dry summer!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Growing Degree Days--An Important Tool

When it comes to the weather, clearly no two years are alike; and with weather anomalies becoming quite common, correctly timing activities on the golf course is more challenging now than ever.  So how do we deal with a rollercoaster of temperatures--a record warm February, and now snow on the ground in March.  In many cases, one of the best ways we can know where we stand with the weather over an extended period, is by tracking growing degree days (GDD).

What are GDD?  In simple terms,  GDD is a measure of heat accumulation.  GDD can be used to track weed and insect activity, as well as more pleasant things such as when flowers will be blooming.

Whether it's a pre-emergent herbicide for Crabgrass, or a product for weevil control, these applications can't be timed for optimum efficacy if simply based on a fixed, predetermined date.  More often than not, doing so will mean you made the application either too early or too late, and the results will reflect this.

This time of year, one of the most important green spray applications is for the prevention of Poa seedhead development on the putting surfaces.
Limiting Poa seed development is critical in maintaining a smooth putting surface.

In the case of spraying to prevent Poa seedhead development, we start tracking GDD in January, and use 32 degrees as a base.  Each day, the high and low temperatures are averaged and 32 is subtracted from this.  (Negative results are not included, based on the assumption that a plant's development basically remains static on those days.)

As you can see below, due to the record warmth this year, we accumulated over 500 GDD through February.  How does this compare to other years?
2017 Growing Degree Days

Well, through February, 2015, we had only accumulated 68 GDD.  In other words, we are way ahead of 2015, and spraying on the same date these two years would yield entirely different results.  The initial spray for Poa seed prevention went out this year during the last week of February, whereas it was not made until the first week of April in 2015.
2015 Growing Degree Days

So, how have we done in the past with our seedhead control when using GDD?  The untreated check plot in this photo had significantly more seeds develop than the rest of the green.  While we'll never achieve 100% control, our goal is to avoid having the greens feel like you're putting on cauliflower in the spring.
Untreated check plot.

Preventing Poa seedhead development is not a one and done treatment for us.  We are continuing to monitor GDD to know the best time to make our next application.  Traditionally, the interval between sprays is about three weeks.  However, just as the super warm February temperatures had us going out earlier than ever with the first spray, March is now roaring like a lion, and thanks to our current cold spell, the next application will likely be delayed due to a lack of GDD accumulation.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Back on the Beach

We are often asked what we do during the winter.  An appropriate response this year might be, "What winter?"

Throughout much of January and February, tasks that we typically think of as in-season course maintenance (like mowing greens) have taken up quite a bit of the crew's time.

However, this has been offset to some extent by not having any snow removal to deal with, and we've managed to address a number of important projects.  This week the practice bunkers at the driving range got a makeover.

 The old sand was removed, the drain lines inspected and cleaned, and new sand was installed.  While not a huge undertaking, this was definitely needed.

And for the record, nobody is complaining about the lack of snow!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dam Removal

If you've watched the national news lately, you've likely seen the concerns about dams failing due to the heavy rains in the west.  In contrast to this, we've developed some dams on the golf course which we weren't looking for, and would like to get rid of.

These are referred to as "collar dams" and develop primarily due to sand accumulation from both bunker and topdressing sand over a period of time.  On several greens, the collar is now higher than the putting surface, thus preventing surface run-off of rain water.

Removing the dam requires a bit of delicate surgery on the green, collar and surrounds.  The first step includes checking the existing grades with a transit, and determining the area which needs to be regraded.  In order to have a smooth tie-in to the surrounding area, it's often necessary to start the grading well beyond the low point.

In the case of #3, we knew that an issue existed prior to last fall's construction on the surrounds.  The grading adjacent to the green and bunkers was done in a manner which would allow us to get some drainage once the green itself was addressed this winter.

The finished product.  The sod seams have been topdressed.  Winter (if that's really the season we're in) is typically the best time for us to tackle a job like this, as the sod will not require babysitting.  Now that it has a little more slope to it, this will truly be a knee-knocker of a pin placement...